Protests have personalities. The School of the Americas protest is somber and artistic. World Bank protests are rowdy and volatile. The G8 protest in Georgia was lively, but impotent, because the protesters were so far from the action. After a few decades of being woke, it’s easy to forget this, to feel like a protest is an object that you’re required to interact with in constructing social change. But a march is not a tool, it’s a swarm.
The Women’s Marches in Oakland and San Francisco had a strange personality. It wavered between hope and exhaustion. It felt like the mother of a delinquent; she’s stayed up all night and prayed and pressed his suit but it’s a long trial and her son has been guilty before…like America, we love you, we’ll always be there for you, but you need to get your shit together. The Women’s March of Oakland felt like the mother in Eddie Murphy’s old routine, shouting, Don’t make me put on my red shoes and come down there.
My friend Jordan, an Oakland nurse, provided breakfast and a meet point at 8:30. At ten we walked down to the official start point of the Oakland Women’s March, but even standing in the block in front of that, there were women with signs overflowing blocks ahead of us. The first hour the march barely moved, because there was a never-ending influx of traffic coming of the BART trains ahead of us, creating a bottleneck. It is frustrating to be at a march that isn’t marching. Marches should be energetic. But the reason for the lack of movement was that everyone and her sister came out, so the same thing that caused frustration also created hope. This turned out to be the recurring theme of the day.
I felt it later that day at the rally in San Francisco too. This time we were the ones coming off the train, creating a bottleneck. We had to work through a massive crowd to get to a spot where we could hear who was speaking, but it was too crowded to get any closer. We weren’t even close enough to see the stage itself. So we stood in the rain, shoulder to shoulder, room to hold either a sign or an umbrella, but not both. It was equally miserable and inspiring: so many people!
New estimates put the count at 100,000. Almost everyone I know went, it’s all anyone on my feed has been talking about for days.
It was a quiet march. There were people doing chants, but sometimes the chants didn’t take off, or when they did, they didn’t travel far. People were determined to be there and excited about the turnout, but they didn’t have the energy to shout. The march expressed itself though, with the myriad clever and lovely signs. I’ve been to well-funded protests where unions and nonprofits hand out pre-made signs, and the protest becomes a sea of tidy fonts and clear messaging. But at the Women’s March, most of the signs were hand-drawn. I loved to think about these women all over town, making their signs the night before, and I loved to see women interacting and high-fiving in appreciation of these signs.
Any Women’s March is by nature a march of mothers. There were so many happy young feminists there. And a mother’s march is peaceful, safe. In fact the Oakland PD reported zero arrests for the Oakland Women’s March, and there were no arrests at the giant Washington DC Women’s March either! Zero arrests! There was no civil disobedience, no direct action, no black block…I’m not opposed to civil disobedience, but it is notable when so many people gather peacefully.
Here are my favorite protest signs from the Oakland Women’s March in the morning, and the San Francisco Women’s March that started at three.
Protest Signs from the Bay Area Women’s March (Oakland and San Francisco)
Click to launch slideshow and view images full-sized
But wait, there’s more! I don’t have as many photos of the San Francisco march at three, because I was charging my phone and it was raining. But check out the video of the dance party we passed.
Short Video of Protest Dance Party in Market Street at the San Francisco Women’s March
Protestors marching by under umbrellas.
Karma has a degree in writing and sociology. She’s an Americorps grad and a board member of the California Writers Club. Her first foray into human rights work was with the Westcott 12 activists who launched a 100+ day camp out in protest of sweatshop labor. Since then she’s organized with IndyMedia, Occupy Oakland, and most recently with Solidaridad Con Los Ninos, a group that organizes caravans to visit detainment centers. She loves street art, poetry, and dancing with wild abandon.